Monday, July 24, 2006

Cicada Karaoke

UPDATE: We are back in the heat again--forcast for this coming Tuesday says 98°F with calm winds and dead birds dropping out of the trees. *grimace* It just takes me so long to do a posting that I overlap myself!

From Last Week:

The heatwave has finally broken, with daytime temps and humidity lower at last. It's been a gradual shift over the past week, but cold air hit my face when I opened the glass door to let the cat out this morning. COLD!

I had become accustomed to wincing miserably as the hot, wet, Eau 'd Sewage Treatment Plant air slapped my face each morning. The little dials inside the electric meter out back of the house had gone "SPROING!" and scattered miniscule metal parts all over the inside of the protective glass dome. (Not to worry; the electric company will be able to figure out what to charge.) Everyone I bitched to commiserated with described the same set of heat-related physical symptoms: lethargy, listlessness, digestive problems, depressed mood. It seemed we had slid off New Jersey and plopped down into Hell without even the opportunity of a fair trial.

But then we had a few thunderstorms and things began to cool off, the daytime/nighttime temperatures going down a few degrees each day over the past seven days. Early morning today must have been in the 60's--a little promise of autumn to come.

After a busy day, and when I finally got a chance, I took Daisy the Terrier out to the back yard to chase after the frisbee. Daisy only weighs about 25 pounds, but she leaves deep ruts in the yard with her hind paws as she charges off after a thrown toy. She's solid muscle and lightening-quick, using all her senses to catch or track her toys. It's wonderful to see a little terrier at work; their speed, agility and comic determination always amaze me.

Daisy likes to "hide" her toys rather than return them straight to me. We had a rash of huge spiders out in the yard a couple of summers ago (webs a good three feet in diameter), so I'm careful when walking under trees to get Daisy's hidden whiffle ball or frisbee. I got rather traumatized by a particularly large spider while searching for puppy's whiffle ball one evening. She had spun her web out of a pine tree and across to my clothesline and I almost ran into her web headfirst. I looked up just in time to see her perched on her intricate construction, two feet from my face. Talk about a potential screaming, hysterical back yard ballet!

Now, Mr. Pseudonym and I are gentle, ex-hippie type people, and we don't like to go around randomly stomping on other living things just because they don't look like Bambi. But Mizz Spider was the type of woman who could make the blood drain out of a very large, muscular dockworker's face. She was at least and inch and a half long, with a full, ponderous body and long striped legs.

We tolerated her presence with trembling good humor until several of her sisters decided to set up shop at crucial points on the front and back of the house. They liked to move their webs a couple of feet over from the previous night's web each time they spun, so we never knew what we might be running into when leaving the house. We had taken to peering fearfully out of our doors before attempting exit to see who was merrily spinning her way into our nightmares that evening. Reluctantly, but before they could lay their eggs for next year, we wiped out the whole community one evening with a can of Raid and a broom.

We had seen this same type of spider adorning several stories of a hotel we stayed at on one of our vacations, two dozen or so of their giant webs spread across the outside of the hotel building like patches of angel's hair on a Christmas tree. We were not anxious to host our own "Jump Out In Front of the Humans & Scare Them Into Shrieking Temporary Insanity" workshop at our home the following summer. Even after the slaughter, I still wouldn't go out by myself in the evening to exercise the dog for the rest of the summer; Mr. Pseudonym had to tolerate my whimpering and hanging onto his arm while he inspected the trees with a flashlight before Daisy and I began to play.

Cicadas, however, are another story. For some reason, they don't scare me. They are big insects, with a no-nonsense exoskeleton and disturbing noisemaking capabilities, but they just don't seem that threatening to me. They don't bite or sting (good thing for us!), content to suck on plant juice and sing their shrill, grating, intrusive arias up in the trees each evening. During daylight hours, they will occasionally fly into us by accident, with a loud "THWAP" as they hit the space between our eyes and fall to the ground insensate. Since cicadas are, as I said, BIG and prehistoric looking, the thwapped individual will usually look down at the stunned insect on the ground and immediately begin screaming, running around and waving his/her arms wildly above the head. "EEEEEEEEK! EEEEEEEEK! EEEEEEEEK!" we will exclaim. But there really is no reason to do this.

Cicadas are actually quite beautiful, with the many species varying in color and size. Their characteristic ear-piercing "song" results from the male cidada rubbing his special abdominal "tymbals" together to attract a mate. Most cicadas have multiple-year life cycles. There are "annual" and "periodical" cicadas, with life cycles, respectively, of two to eight years and 13 to 17 years. So, while there are usually some species of cicadas around each year, some of these lil' sap suckers arrive in great numbers every 13 to 17 years. (See Periodical Cicadas,

It is amazing to me that these insects spend all these years underground, sucking on tree roots and going through several stages of development, only to emerge as adults so infrequently. Junket once found a molted exoskeleton from a cicada and ran around after her sisters, scaring them with it for a few days. She was so proud of herself: "I named him STING ASS," she explained. Junket is indeed mischievous.

Monday, July 17, 2006

107 In The Shade

I had to reschedule Sprinkles' and Pokey's vet appointments today. The SHared unInspected Taxi has no air-conditioning, and I just couldn't see packing ice around the rats and taking them out in this weather for just a routine check-up. They can go next Monday evening, when Mr. Pseudonym's well-chilled little silver Civic will be available.

The shaded thermometer outside the back door now reads 100◦F, which feels like 105◦F to 107◦F when we factor in the New Jersey humidity, or roughly meaning "you're FRIED, Pineys!" Under these conditions, the New Jersey State Bird has been known to swarm out in choking clouds, even at mid-morning, from the low-lying foliage. The cloud then heads straight for the average NJ housewife at her clothesline. Within five minutes, there is left only a heap of collapsed skin and bone in a housedress, a couple of clothespins and a cigarette poking out from between its clenched teeth.

Junket and I are gratefully hunkered down in the cool darkness of Pseudonym Manor, two wall-unit G.E. air-conditioners straining under the load, confused animals gathered at our feet. Daisy the Terrier doesn't understand why we can't go play frisbee; the cats are staring listlessly at the sliding glass door which lets out to the back yard, wondering who will stalk the birds in their absence. Solid food doesn't go down easily, but lies at the bottom of my stomach, complaining bitterly.

An old friend once told me she watches certain films on very hot days. Her favorite cool-down film is Waterworld, which I have never seen in its entirety. (If I'm going to watch a hosed-down leading man, it ain't gonna be Kevin Costner; I'm more of a Mel-Gibson-in-his-tight-leather-pants, c. Mad Max, kind of girl.) When the temperature exceeds 95◦F, I like to watch Fargo, It's A Wonderful Life, The Day After Tomorrow or Smilla's Sense of Snow. Well, that last one sort of irritates me with its implausibility; Mr. Pseudonym just bought it so he could look at Julia Ormond. Mr. Pseudonym also likes to look at Audrey Tautou. Both of these ladies look somewhat like I did in my youth, which is of some small comfort. Well into having completed my sixth decade in this body, my skin is a bit rumpled and careworn these days.

It's OK, though--I've given up makeup, for the most part, and J.Q. seems to find the crosshatched wrinkles on my face to be of considerable interest. I still hold him when he's sucking down his milk or juice, even though he's been capable of holding his own bottle for quite some time. He stares into my eyes, pats my face, tries to stick his fingers up my nose or rips off my glasses and giggles while driddling milk out of the corner of his mouth and down his neck. We only have these few precious minutes before he flings the empty aside and chases off on all fours after the cat or the nearest available electric outlet. He's tall, solid and wiry at 15 months, and he doesn't believe in holding still for much these days. My babies didn't either, and they've run all the way into a time in which I cannot comfort or protect them.

Oh, never mind me. It's just the heat. I need to brave the baking sun just long enough to get to an icy-cold Target and buy myself some toys.

Or maybe not. It's just not worth the stress. I'll pop in my Oceanscapes DVD (fishies, foamy waves, coral reefs, blue-green coolness, tranquil tinkly music), make some iced tea and let the day wind down.